This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

Which fertilizer for trees and shrubs is best?

Healthy trees and shrubs will beautify a lawn throughout each season of the year. Although these plants are typically hardy, they sometimes need extra nutrients to thrive. A fertilizer that’s formulated especially for trees and shrubs will promote strong growth and a beautiful appearance.

Just like other types of garden fertilizers, those made for trees and shrubs are available in different forms and contain various additives to keep plants looking their best. BioAdvanced Tree & Shrub Plant Food & Fertilizer is made with an insecticide that protects plants from numerous harmful pests. 

What to know before you buy fertilizer for trees and shrubs 

If you love nurturing plants, you’ve probably used garden fertilizer to enhance their growth. However, it’s important to understand the basic fertilizing requirements of trees and shrubs in order to choose a product that will match their needs. 

Why should I fertilize my trees and shrubs?

When trees and shrubs are young, fertilizer will help them develop strong root systems and green leaves that will make it possible for them to become well-established. Applying fertilizer to established trees and shrubs will help replenish the soil of depleted nutrients, which plants need for continued growth and health year after year. 

What is NPK?

Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are the key macronutrients in fertilizer, and are simply referred to as NPK. Many fertilizers have a ratio rating to help consumers choose the best one for their needs. For example, a ratio of 2-1-1 means a fertilizer contains 2% nitrogen and 1% phosphorus and potassium. Some fertilizers also contain various micronutrients that are not included in this equation but are beneficial to plants. 

While any fertilizer that’s formulated for trees and shrubs can be used on these types of plants, you won’t know the correct balance of macronutrients to use without testing the soil for an accurate breakdown of its nutrient contents. 

When should I apply fertilizer to trees and shrubs?

Trees and shrubs should be fertilized in the spring and fall. Springtime application promotes bright, thick leaves and the development of blooms and fruit. When fertilizer is applied in the fall, it helps plants stay strong and store energy during the cold winter months. 

What to look for in quality fertilizer for trees and shrubs

Tree and shrub formulas 

All-purpose fertilizer will work for most plants, but formulas that are made especially for trees and shrubs are ideal. That’s because they contain ratios of macronutrients that help these types of plants thrive. Fertilizers in this category typically have the words “trees and shrubs” on the packaging. 

Types of fertilizer

Liquid, granular and spike are the three most common types of fertilizer, and all are easy to use. While liquid absorbs quickly and works fast, some granular formulas that release nutrients quickly are also available. Spike options are slow-release formulas that deposit nutrients slowly over time, and granular fertilizer can come in slow-release formulas, too. 

Synthetic and natural fertilizer

You have a choice of synthetic or natural fertilizers. Synthetic products are made with chemicals and are fast and effective. Natural options are made of different organic materials. Although they work slowly compared to synthetic fertilizers, they are also less likely to damage plants. 

How much you can expect to spend on fertilizer for shrubs and trees

Quality fertilizer costs as little as $6 for a portion that covers a few plants, and as much as $100 or more for multiple trees and shrubs. Products by top manufacturers will cost a bit more than little-known brands. 

Fertilizer for trees and shrubs FAQ

Where should I apply fertilizer for trees and shrubs?

A. Apply fertilizer at the base of trees and shrubs. Because root systems of trees spread quite a bit, place fertilizer along the dripline —  the area slightly beyond the circumference of the branches. Rake granular fertilizer into the soil for optimal absorption. 

Should I fertilize plants in a drought?

A. No. Plants are already stressed in drought conditions, and applying fertilizer can add to the stress by creating unhealthy levels of nutrients. 

If I don’t notice results after using fertilizer on my trees and shrubs, should I apply more?

A. Possibly. While there is no need to reapply tree and shrub fertilizer in the fall, a second application in early summer can be beneficial to an under-nourished plant. 

What’s the best fertilizer for trees and shrubs to buy?

Top Fertilizer for trees and shrubs

BioAdvanced Tree & Shrub Protect and Feed Plant Food & Fertilizer with Insect Protection

BioAdvanced Tree & Shrub Protect and Feed Plant Food & Fertilizer with Insect Protection

What you need to know: A two-in-one slow-release option that’s ideal for consumers who want to protect and nourish plants for up to 12 months. 

What you’ll love: In addition to nutrients, BioAdvanced contains an insecticide that controls harmful insects. Because it’s slow-release, one application can last for up to a year.

What you should consider: Those who don’t need pest protection may not want to add the additional chemical to the soil. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Home Depot

Top fertilizer for trees and shrubs for the money

Jobe’s Tree & Shrub Fertilizer Spikes

Jobe’s Tree & Shrub Fertilizer Spikes

What you need to know: With proper placement, Jobe’s fertilizer spikes provide a simple way to put nutrients back into the soil around trees and shrubs. 

What you’ll love: These easy-to-use fertilizer spikes offer a balanced blend of nutrients that’s vital to leaf development and root health. 

What you should consider: Some customers report the death of grass and other plants after using the spikes. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Home Depot

Worth checking out

Lilly Miller Alaska Fish Fertilizer 5-1-1 Concentrate

Lilly Miller Alaska Fish Fertilizer 5-1-1 Concentrate

What you need to know: A natural nutrient-rich fertilizer that’s a bit smelly, but highly effective and great for consumers who prefer chemical-free products. 

What you’ll love: Made with fish, this organic product fertilizes plants without harsh chemicals. It’s concentrated too, so the bottle goes a fairly long way. 

What you should consider: Although this product contains wintergreen oil that helps with odor, the scent is still somewhat unpleasant. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.

Jennifer Manfrin writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

Copyright 2022 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.